- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2000

Hope for Africa

The dean of Africa's diplomatic corps is urging Congress to quickly approve a major Africa trade bill when the House and Senate return from Easter recess.

A congressional conference committee last week reported out a compromise version of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which would ease tariffs on textile imports from sub-Saharan Africa. The compromise, which includes similar tariff relief for Caribbean and Central American nations, must be approved by both houses.

Ambassador Robert Olhaye of Djibouti is worried that the bill, first introduced in 1995, could get sidetracked by other legislation as Congress moves toward a summer recess and a fall election campaign. The Senate returns Tuesday and the House, on May 2.

Mr. Olhaye expressed his concerns in a letter last week to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a supporter of the bill who also sees the need for speed. When the conference committee reported out the compromise, Mr. Lott warned, "This is the kind of package that could begin to come apart, one thread at a time."

Mr. Olhaye asked the Mississippi Republican to urge his colleagues to pass a "meaningful and commercially viable [bill] that will fortify the African countries in their continued efforts to promote good governance and private-sector development."

Mr. Olhaye, the most senior African ambassador in Washington, noted that the bill has taken five years to get to a congressional conference committee.

"During that time, the Africa bill has built up considerable bipartisan support in both houses with strong majorities," he said in his letter to Mr. Lott.

"This congressional support has raised the hopes of all Africans that the United States would speedily enact this historic first piece of trade legislation with this continent long neglected in the market place.

"Africa recognizes U.S. leadership in creating freer trade and promoting liberal economic policies throughout the world, and this has spurred enormous hope in the development of dynamic partnership with Africa in the new millennium."

The bill would apply to more than 70 countries and grant duty-free access to imports of African-made apparel, made from African or U.S. fabrics. However, the bill would limit the shipments to 1.5 percent of all U.S. apparel imports. The cap would grow to 3.5 percent over 8 years.

For the poorest countries in Africa, there would be no restrictions on the source of the fabric for four years, but the caps would still apply.

The bill would impose no tariff or quota on apparel made from U.S. fabrics.

Concern for Nigeria

Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering yesterday held talks with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to offer U.S. assistance to deal with a crisis caused by ethnic and religious violence.

"I expressed my country's concern to President Obasanjo over the spate of religious and ethnic crises in Nigeria and expressed our readiness to assist the government to solve the problem, because it will affect the democracy in Nigeria," he told reporters in the capital, Abuja.

Mr. Pickering, a former ambassador to Nigeria, also spoke with Nigerian legislators and non-government groups on how to deal with the unrest that has claimed more than 1,000 lives since an elected civilian government replaced a 15-year military dictatorship last year.

Tax break in Japan?

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Foley is urging the Japanese government to provide tax breaks for nonprofit and nongovernment organizations, the Kyodo News Service reports.

In a speech this week at Sophia University in Tokyo, Mr. Foley said those organizations thrive in the United States because contributions to them are tax deductible.

"I wouldn't have the illusion that as many Americans that give [to them] would do so without tax deductibility," he said.

Mr. Foley urged Japanese legislators to proceed with a plan to provide tax breaks for the NGOs and nonprofit groups.

"Without the sustaining support of private contributions, it's difficult for many NGOs to have independence and resources, and that depends on favorable tax treatment," he said.

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